I have a funny Sunday night. I wake in the deep of it to steady, quiet rain outside the opened louvered windows. It’s a surprise. I love the rain, and this kind speaks to some deep peace in me. I go out to the back yard naked, collect all the cushions, pile them in the living room. I fall asleep again to the almost silent presence of this summer rain. Before dawn, I wake to wind, the leaves loud in the liquid ambers, the quick, hard sounds of the neighbor’s American flag. I go back outside to put down the three umbrellas, get back in bed. I am not ruffled by this effort or this unexpected need, only responding to it, at ease. (So out of character for me.) The third time I wake is to Monday morning’s trash trucks. I head out the front door, clothed this time, to put out our bins. I go back to bed again because it seems like the thing to do, to complete the pattern of the night, only to daydream a little, to finish waking up. But there is a softness that stays with me into the morning, as if this funny night of waking and going outside and going back to bed was more ritual than oddity, like a Buddhist monk doing walking practice, or the clergy in Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium who stayed up all night chanting to help their god return in the morning with the sun.
This morning I am doing my chores and hear the ravens call. When I go out to my corner of the yard, the two of them are siting in the neighbor’s tree. They are quiet now, using their softer vocalizations. I sit with my back to them, and their sounds soothe me while I write. I go inside to get my tea, and I forget to honor them before I leave. When I go back out again, they are gone. I am pierced by my regret. I send them my silent apologies. Tears come to soften me from whatever it was that disturbed me earlier. (I don’t remember now. Something is always disturbing me these days.) Regret is not the route I’d choose to my unhardened heart, but today I am grateful because it does the trick, gets me inside. I like it inside. The juvenile red-tailed hawk shows himself above the ridge when my tears come, and I don’t believe it’s coincidence. Because I am inside again, I am able to connect with him. He circles wider, flies right above me, low enough that I can see his markings. My gratitude widens with the arc of his flight, quiet and clear like his passage across the sky. Later, I shake my head. Regret as entryway to gratitude and gifts. Who would have thought?
When I stop, even for a moment, my bone-deep exhaustion starts to sink me. I begin to fall asleep in guided meditations. I have become one of those people I used to watch sometimes in sangha whose head drifts lower and lower until they wake with a jerk and place themselves upright, only to begin the nodding off process again. I drink more yerba maté at sunset. Swimming makes me feel alive while I’m in the water. I have become too tired again for real joy, only a deep gratitude—bone-deep like the exhaustion, cell-deep—for that huge, orange crescent moon last night when I turned off the living room lights, for the appearance of the red-tailed hawk in unexpected moments, for the early morning birdsong and the mornings I wake with a quiet heart to listen, for the two ravens speaking in the neighbor’s tree, those round sounds I love so much, like rolling percussive taps of hollow wood. For moments without anger. For each time I am tender and kind.
Years ago my friend Richard talked about how we can shine a light on any aspect of ourselves, bringing our attention to it, and that’s all we need to do for it to transform. (I’m sorry. I don’t know if this should be attributed to a particular teacher.) I remember telling him you would have to have a lot of kindness for yourself in order for that to work. I knew it wasn’t working like that for me. The other day I was sitting in my corner of the back yard beneath the lime green umbrella, thinking about my anger, my reactivity, my yelling. I was deep in my thoughts, the pool, the pots of succulents, the bees, even the lizards all receding. I am always paying attention to some degree when I’m acting out, I thought. But my observer isn’t curious or kind. My behavior isn’t okay with her. I think if I want to be able to rein myself in more quickly and more often, I need to develop a better relationship with my observer, fund more kindness, foster more genuine interest in my goings on. I can almost hear her. Oh, look, she whispers, fascinated, look what you’re doing now. Isn’t that interesting. Oh, see how it isn’t working for you? Let’s see what we can do, she says. I can dream up a version of me laughing at myself, brimming with self-acceptance. I can almost touch her. But I am too far away. Still, the sense of possibility is heartening. I look up at the ridge, my little bit of mountain here, scan the edges for a sitting hawk. I don’t see one today. But hope sits inside me. Maybe if my observer can be kinder, she can talk me around.
These days I don’t always know where to go how to be inside myself all sharp jagged edges I dissolve on the floor of the garage I keen into my pillow I want to put my fist through the wall (how do people do that? the drywall must be very thin?) but now and then I find that sweet spot where I know beyond doubt how lucky I am I find my grateful heart in a quiet moment in the midst of it all and I cry tears that don’t hurt.
I’ve just had three days with hectic-ness, ongoing exhaustion, plenty of anger. I’ve been so tired I’ve let dirty dishes sit in the sink, dragged my mother to El Pollo Loco, read a new fantasy novel by Naomi Novik (she of the dragon stories). There has been genuine laughter and odd, goofy, hunched up prancing through the house, a weird grin on my face. Decades ago as an undergraduate at Cal I was daydreaming on the grass when a young man stopped. “You look like you have all the answers,” he said. I laughed. “No,” I said, “but I have a lot of questions.” I remember the unexpected, happy intimacy of the exchange, and how underneath the memory I can point to that day as the day I first understood letting go was the secret to everything in life. For months now I have refused to surrender, have resisted every damn inch of what is. These past two weeks on top of everything that’s been going on, both the next door neighbors and the people across the street have been breaking up cement with a jackhammer, hour after hour after day. If I am not being asked to surrender, I don’t know anything. Maybe my default lethargy is a good sign? We’re not in Kansas anymore. Be easier with it, my dear one, if you can.